Visit an electronics store or your favorite online retailer and you’ll find a seemingly endless selection of iPhone and iPod alarm clock speaker systems. And while these systems range from the basic to the feature-rich, nearly all share one limitation: they can be used with only one iPhone or iPod at a time.
To many, this may be a non-issue, but for a growing number of households – and individuals – with more than one iPhone or iPod, these single-device solutions are becoming increasingly less attractive. As a result, a new class of alarm clocks designed for use with multiple iPhones and iPods is emerging, offering not only charging for two Apple devices, but control and playback as well.
Today I’m taking a look at one of these new dual-dock systems, the iHome iP86 Dual Dock Alarm Clock Radio. [CHECK PRICES]
The iHome iP86 is a feature-packed, dual-dock alarm clock solution for use with Dock Connector iPods released in the last four years, as well as all iPhone models. Features include three independent alarms, a large LCD display with adjustable dimmer, AM/FM radio, an IR remote control, adjustable equalizer, time sync, 3.5mm AUX-in audio input, and Reson8 speaker chambers.
The unit is rather large, measuring 10.4” x 6.7” x 3.4” (WxDxH), and fairly weighty at about 3-pounds; but this does provide added stability when inserting and removing an iPhone or iPod from the docks. The color scheme is black with silver buttons and controls. The front-facing speakers are protected by a black, diamond-patterned grille.
Included in the box is an AC adapter, an AM antenna, and inserts for the iPhone 3G/3GS, iPod nano (up to Gen 5) and iPod touch (up to Gen 3).
Listening & Charging
The iHome iP86 is designed around two independent docks for iPods and iPhones. Dock 1 and Dock 2 each have their own Play/Pause buttons for manual playback. The control wheel surrounding Dock 1’s Play/Pause button (seen above) is the system volume control, while the wheel around Dock 2’s Play button is the “Set Wheel,” providing adjustment for various system settings.
When two iPods, two iPhones, or one of each are inserted into the respective docks, you can listen to the device of your choice by pressing the corresponding Play/Pause button. The active dock is indicated on the LCD display. Both devices are charged simultaneously when docked.
Volume settings go from 0 to 40, with max volume a little lower than I would prefer, but sounds are crisp and usually free from distortion even at maximum levels. If you want audiophile-quality sound, the iP86 won’t blow you away, but it does sound far better than other iPhone/iPod alarm systems I’ve used, thanks – no doubt – to the larger speaker chambers the increased form factor allows.
Equalizer settings include treble, bass, 3D Sound on/off, and balance. These settings are system-wide and not customizable for each dock.
Sleeping & Waking
The iP86 has an adjustable sleep timer that will discontinue playback after a set time. The timer can be set for 120, 90, 60, 30 or 15 minutes. When the desired time is reached, the volume is slowly reduced until the audio is muted and the active iPhone/iPod is put to sleep. Volume adjustments made while in sleep mode are temporary and will not affect the next alarms’ volume.
The system’s three alarms are independently configurable, so each can be set to a different time, different days of the week (every day, Monday through Friday, or weekends), one of the docks, and different wake sounds (buzzer, radio, or iPod/iPhone playback). For example, you could set Alarm 1 to rouse you on weekdays at 6:00AM with a buzzer, Alarm 2 to get your feet tapping 30 minutes later at 6:30AM with music from an iPhone in Dock 1, and Alarm 3 to go off on weekends at 8:00AM with music on an iPod in Dock 2.
You can adjust the snooze from 1 to 29 minutes.
If you set an alarm to wake to an iPhone or iPod in one of the two docks, it will either play whatever audio was playing last, or music from a specific playlist. In order to wake to a specific playlist irrespective of what was playing last, you must create a playlist titled “iHome.” Music from the iHome playlist is played back randomly when the alarm goes off. If you use the snooze feature, music playback stops, and a new song begins playing when the snooze period ends.
One problem I ran into again and again during my review was that the included infrared remote control had difficulty playing and pausing playback from either an iPhone (iPhone 4, 3GS and 3G) or an iPod (Nano Gen 4 and Gen 6) in either dock. Playback using the buttons on the unit itself was flawless, but the remote’s Dock 1 and Dock 2 Play/Pause buttons only worked some of the time, and usually not at all.
Other than this admittedly significant problem, the remote performed well. The included snooze and sleep buttons allow you to place the alarm system away from your bedside and still use its primary alarm features.
Whether you’re an individual with an iPhone and iPod, or a couple with two iPhones and/or iPods between you, the iP86 provides multiple-device functionality that’s long overdue. The three independent alarms are fantastic and offer a range of sleep and wake options for each of the two docks. The sound quality is above average for a system of its type and price range and there are a fair amount of controls to customize the output for your preferences.
An unreliable remote control is the only major downside here, but as most users will have the iP86 right at their bedside, this isn’t as much of a problem as it would be with other types of speaker systems.
If there’s more than one iPhone or iPod at your side when you tuck yourself in each night, the iHome iP86 offers an ideal solution you probably didn’t even know existed.
Matthew Nichols, Products Editor
The iHome iP86 was provided by the manufacturer for this review.